‘The English have always thought of me as French. They have called me a French Princess not an English Queen and hated me for it no matter how much I felt and protested my loyalty to them. Well then, I shall be what they hate.’
1481 and Margaret of Anjou is exiled and imprisoned, writing her life story so she won’t be forgotten.
She begins in 1430 when she realises that men may be kings but women can be powerful too:
‘They said it is the Anjou women who are strong, not the men, but everyone pretends different. They said mother was the real King, everyone just pretends that it is father.’
It’s not long before Margaret finds herself in a similar position: chosen as Henry VI’s bride, she enters the court as ‘a flash of light, a beacon of fire against the grey stone of a chamber that barely seemed to contain her’; he, however, is wedded to God and chastity.
‘We bring the French girl here and crown her and what then?’
The Cardinal shrugged, ‘We pray she knows a whore’s tricks or we pray for a miracle; take your pick’.
What the Duke of Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort have not considered is that Margaret has a mind and a will of her own. Her ‘what then’ is twofold: after a failed attempt at conceiving a child by Henry, she blackmails one of her women into lending Margaret her husband in order to sire a son, and then, as Henry becomes more and more withdrawn, she runs the country from ‘the backroom’, Henry wheeled out as and when necessary to be the face of the performance.
Throughout all of this, Richard, Duke of York, plots to take the throne for himself:
‘Six hundred archers and all loyal to me; I could command double that number, ten times that number if I chose. So she knows about my claim to the English throne does she? Does she know that it is stronger than her husband’s? Does she know my father lost his head pursuing it? Does she have any idea what that means to me?’ The malice thickened with every question, he made no attempt to hide it.
Blood and Roses is a vividly imagined account of the life of Margaret of Anjou. Hokin chooses key events to focus on, transitioning seamlessly across time from one to another. Margaret is shown as tough and ambitious – she will do almost anything to maintain or regain the crown – but also sympathetic. She’s vulnerable but works hard to hide this from others, particularly the Duke of York with whom she has some very uncomfortable chemistry. Indeed, Hokin’s Margaret is at her most interesting in meetings with the Yorkists. Towards the end of the novel, there’s a superb scene between her and the Duke of Warwick, Richard Neville, ‘the Kingmaker’. With little left to lose, Margaret plays him with utter relish, it’s a delight to watch the scene unfold.
Blood and Roses is an entertaining read. A re-telling of a dramatic moment in English history through the eyes of a powerful – and previously much maligned – woman.
Thanks to Yolk Publishing for the review copy.